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Ball and stick model of methane Methane-3D-balls.png
Ball and stick model of methane
Spacefill model of methane Methane-3D-space-filling.svg
Spacefill model of methane
Preferred IUPAC name
Methane [1]
Systematic IUPAC name
Carbane (never recommended [1] )
Other names
  • Marsh gas
  • Natural gas
  • Carbon tetrahydride
  • Hydrogen carbide
3D model (JSmol)
3DMet B01453
ECHA InfoCard 100.000.739
EC Number 200-812-7
MeSH Methane
PubChem CID
RTECS number PA1490000
UN number 1971
Molar mass 16.043 g·mol−1
AppearanceColorless gas
Odor Odorless
  • 0.657 g·L−1 (gas, 25 °C, 1 atm)
  • 0.717 g·L−1 (gas, 0 °C, 1 atm)
  • 422.62 g·L−1 (liquid, −162 °C) [2]
Melting point −182.5 °C; −296.4 °F; 90.7 K
Boiling point −161.50 °C; −258.70 °F; 111.65 K [3]
22.7 mg·L−1
Solubility Soluble in ethanol, diethyl ether, benzene, toluene, methanol, acetone and insoluble in water
log P 1.09
14 nmol·Pa−1·kg−1
Conjugate acid Methanium
Conjugate base Methyl anion
−12.2×10−6 cm3·mol−1
0 D
35.69 J·(K·mol)−1
186.25 J·(K·mol)−1
−74.87 kJ·mol−1
−891.1 to −890.3 kJ·mol−1
Hazards [4]
Safety data sheet See: data page
GHS pictograms GHS-pictogram-flamme.svg
GHS signal word DANGER
NFPA 704
Flammability code 4: Will rapidly or completely vaporize at normal atmospheric pressure and temperature, or is readily dispersed in air and will burn readily. Flash point below 23 °C (73 °F). E.g., propaneHealth code 2: Intense or continued but not chronic exposure could cause temporary incapacitation or possible residual injury. E.g., chloroformReactivity code 0: Normally stable, even under fire exposure conditions, and is not reactive with water. E.g., liquid nitrogenSpecial hazard SA: Simple asphyxiant gas. E.g., nitrogen, heliumMethane
Flash point −188 °C (−306.4 °F; 85.1 K)
537 °C (999 °F; 810 K)
Explosive limits 4.4–17%
Related compounds
Related alkanes
Supplementary data page
Refractive index (n),
Dielectric constantr), etc.
Phase behaviour
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
X mark.svgN  verify  (what is  Yes check.svgYX mark.svgN ?)
Infobox references

Methane ( US: /ˈmɛθn/ or UK: /ˈmθn/ ) is a chemical compound with the chemical formula CH4 (one atom of carbon and four atoms of hydrogen). It is a group-14 hydride and the simplest alkane, and is the main constituent of natural gas. The relative abundance of methane on Earth makes it an attractive fuel, although capturing and storing it poses challenges due to its gaseous state under normal conditions for temperature and pressure.

American English Set of dialects of the English language spoken in the United States

American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. It is considered one of the most influential dialects of English globally, including on other varieties of English.

British English is the standard dialect of English language as spoken and written in the United Kingdom. Variations exist in formal, written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee is almost exclusively used in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken, so a uniform concept of British English is more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English, British English shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".

Chemical compound Substance composed of multiple elements

A chemical compound is a chemical substance composed of many identical molecules composed of atoms from more than one element held together by chemical bonds. A chemical element bonded to an identical chemical element is not a chemical compound since only one element, not two different elements, is involved.


Natural occurring methane is found both below ground and under the sea floor, and is formed by both geological and biological processes. The largest reservoir of methane is under the seafloor in the form of methane clathrates. When methane reaches the surface and the atmosphere, it is known as atmospheric methane. [5] The Earth's atmospheric methane concentration has increased by about 150% since 1750, and it accounts for 20% of the total radiative forcing from all of the long-lived and globally mixed greenhouse gases. [6] Methane has also been detected on other planets, including Mars, which has implications for astrobiology research. [7]

Methane clathrate flammable solid similar to ice

Methane clathrate (CH4·5.75H2O) or (4CH4·23H2O), also called methane hydrate, hydromethane, methane ice, fire ice, natural gas hydrate, or gas hydrate, is a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. Originally thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System, where temperatures are low and water ice is common, significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of the Earth.

Atmosphere of Earth Layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth

The atmosphere of Earth is the layer of gases, commonly known as air, that surrounds the planet Earth and is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere of Earth protects life on Earth by creating pressure allowing for liquid water to exist on the Earth's surface, absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention, and reducing temperature extremes between day and night.

Atmospheric methane

Atmospheric methane is the methane present in Earth's atmosphere. Atmospheric methane concentrations are of interest because it is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere. Atmospheric methane is rising. The 100-year global warming potential of methane is 28. That is, over a 100-year period, it traps 28 times more heat per mass unit than carbon dioxide and 32 times the effect when accounting for aerosol interactions. Global methane concentrations had risen from 722 parts per billion (ppb) in pre-industrial times to 1800 ppb by 2011, an increase by a factor of 2.5 and the highest value in at least 800,000 years. Its concentration is higher in the Northern Hemisphere since most sources are located on land and the Northern Hemisphere has more land mass. The concentrations vary seasonally, with, for example, a minimum in the northern tropics during April−May mainly due to removal by the hydroxyl radical.

Properties and bonding

Methane is a tetrahedral molecule with four equivalent C–H bonds. Its electronic structure is described by four bonding molecular orbitals (MOs) resulting from the overlap of the valence orbitals on C and H. The lowest energy MO is the result of the overlap of the 2s orbital on carbon with the in-phase combination of the 1s orbitals on the four hydrogen atoms. Above this energy level is a triply degenerate set of MOs that involve overlap of the 2p orbitals on carbon with various linear combinations of the 1s orbitals on hydrogen. The resulting "three-over-one" bonding scheme is consistent with photoelectron spectroscopic measurements.

Tetrahedral molecular geometry Central atom with four substituents located at the corners of a tetrahedron

In a tetrahedral molecular geometry, a central atom is located at the center with four substituents that are located at the corners of a tetrahedron. The bond angles are cos−1(−⅓) = 109.4712206...° ≈ 109.5° when all four substituents are the same, as in methane (CH4) as well as its heavier analogues. Methane and other perfectly symmetrical tetrahedral molecules belong to point group Td, but most tetrahedral molecules have lower symmetry. Tetrahedral molecules can be chiral.

The carbon-hydrogen bond is a bond between carbon and hydrogen atoms that can be found in many organic compounds. This bond is a covalent bond meaning that carbon shares its outer valence electrons with up to four hydrogens. This completes both of their outer shells making them stable. Carbon–hydrogen bonds have a bond length of about 1.09 Å and a bond energy of about 413 kJ/mol. Using Pauling's scale—C (2.55) and H (2.2)—the electronegativity difference between these two atoms is 0.35. Because of this small difference in electronegativities, the C−H bond is generally regarded as being non-polar. In structural formulas of molecules, the hydrogen atoms are often omitted. Compound classes consisting solely of C–H bonds and C–C bonds are alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, and aromatic hydrocarbons. Collectively they are known as hydrocarbons.

Hydrogen Chemical element with atomic number 1

Hydrogen is a chemical element with symbol H and atomic number 1. With a standard atomic weight of 1.008, hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table. Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the Universe, constituting roughly 75% of all baryonic mass. Non-remnant stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in the plasma state. The most common isotope of hydrogen, termed protium, has one proton and no neutrons.

At room temperature and standard pressure, methane is a colorless, odorless gas. [8] The familiar smell of natural gas as used in homes is achieved by the addition of an odorant, usually blends containing tert-butylthiol, as a safety measure. Methane has a boiling point of −164 °C (−257.8 °F) at a pressure of one atmosphere. [9] As a gas it is flammable over a range of concentrations (5.4–17%) in air at standard pressure.

Room temperature

Colloquially, room temperature is the range of air temperatures that most people prefer for indoor settings, which feel comfortable when wearing typical indoor clothing. Human comfort can extend beyond this range depending on humidity, air circulation and other factors. In certain fields, like science and engineering, and within a particular context, room temperature can mean different agreed-on ranges. In contrast, ambient temperature is the actual temperature of the air in any particular place, as measured by a thermometer. It may be very different from usual room temperature, for example an unheated room in winter.

Celsius Scale and unit of measurement for temperature

The Celsius scale, also known as the centigrade scale, is a temperature scale used by the International System of Units (SI). As an SI derived unit, it is used by all countries except the United States, the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands and Liberia. It is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701–1744), who developed a similar temperature scale. The degree Celsius can refer to a specific temperature on the Celsius scale or a unit to indicate a difference between two temperatures or an uncertainty. Before being renamed to honor Anders Celsius in 1948, the unit was called centigrade, from the Latin centum, which means 100, and gradus, which means steps.

Fahrenheit unit of temperature

The Fahrenheit scale is a temperature scale based on one proposed in 1724 by Dutch–German–Polish physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736). It uses the degree Fahrenheit as the unit. Several accounts of how he originally defined his scale exist. The lower defining point, 0 °F, was established as the freezing temperature of a solution of brine made from equal parts of ice, water and salt. Further limits were established as the melting point of ice (32 °F) and his best estimate of the average human body temperature. The scale is now usually defined by two fixed points: the temperature at which water freezes into ice is defined as 32 °F, and the boiling point of water is defined to be 212 °F, a 180 °F separation, as defined at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure.

Solid methane exists in several modifications. Presently nine are known. [10] Cooling methane at normal pressure results in the formation of methane I. This substance crystallizes in the cubic system (space group Fm3m). The positions of the hydrogen atoms are not fixed in methane I, i.e. methane molecules may rotate freely. Therefore, it is a plastic crystal. [11]

In materials science, polymorphism is the ability of a solid material to exist in more than one form or crystal structure. Polymorphism can potentially be found in any crystalline material including polymers, minerals, and metals, and is related to allotropy, which refers to chemical elements. The complete morphology of a material is described by polymorphism and other variables such as crystal habit, amorphous fraction or crystallographic defects. Polymorphism is relevant to the fields of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, pigments, dyestuffs, foods, and explosives.

Space group symmetry group of a configuration in space

In mathematics, physics and chemistry, a space group is the symmetry group of a configuration in space, usually in three dimensions. In three dimensions, there are 219 distinct types, or 230 if chiral copies are considered distinct. Space groups are also studied in dimensions other than 3 where they are sometimes called Bieberbach groups, and are discrete cocompact groups of isometries of an oriented Euclidean space.

A plastic crystal is a crystal composed of weakly interacting molecules that possess some orientational or conformational degree of freedom. The name plastic crystal refers to the mechanical softness of such phases: they resemble waxes and are easily deformed. If the internal degree of freedom is molecular rotation, the name rotor phase or rotatory phase is also used. Typical examples are the modifications Methane I and Ethane I. In addition to the conventional molecular plastic crystals, there are also emerging ionic plastic crystals, particularly organic ionic plastic crystals (OIPCs) and protic organic ionic plastic crystals (POIPCs). POIPCs are solid protic organic salts formed by proton transfer from a Brønsted acid to a Brønsted base and in essence are protic ionic liquids in the molten state, have found to be promising solid-state proton conductors for high temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Examples include 1,2,4-triazolium perfluorobutanesulfonate and imidazolium methanesulfonate.

Chemical reactions

The primary chemical reactions of methane are combustion, steam reforming to syngas, and halogenation. In general, methane reactions are difficult to control.

Combustion high-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel (the reductant) and an oxidant, usually atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized in a mixture termed as smoke

Combustion, or burning, is a high-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel and an oxidant, usually atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized, often gaseous products, in a mixture termed as smoke. Combustion in a fire produces a flame, and the heat produced can make combustion self-sustaining. Combustion is often a complicated sequence of elementary radical reactions. Solid fuels, such as wood and coal, first undergo endothermic pyrolysis to produce gaseous fuels whose combustion then supplies the heat required to produce more of them. Combustion is often hot enough that incandescent light in the form of either glowing or a flame is produced. A simple example can be seen in the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen into water vapor, a reaction commonly used to fuel rocket engines. This reaction releases 242 kJ/mol of heat and reduces the enthalpy accordingly :

Steam reforming or steam methane reforming is a chemical synthesis for producing syngas, hydrogen, carbon monoxide from hydrocarbon fuels such as natural gas. This is achieved in a processing device called a reformer which reacts steam at high temperature and pressure with methane in the presence of a nickel catalyst. The steam methane reformer is widely used in industry to make hydrogen, also called "blue hydrogen", from natural gas. With the use of CCUS technology it is possible to capture the carbon dioxide in the process and thus decarbonised natural gas.


Syngas, or synthesis gas, is a fuel gas mixture consisting primarily of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and very often some carbon dioxide. The name comes from its use as intermediates in creating synthetic natural gas (SNG) and for producing ammonia or methanol. Syngas is usually a product of gasification and the main application is electricity generation. Syngas is combustible and often used as a fuel of internal combustion engines. It has less than half the energy density of natural gas.

Selective oxidation

Partial oxidation of methane to methanol is challenging because the reaction typically progresses all the way to carbon dioxide and water even with an insufficient supply of oxygen. The enzymes methane monooxygenase produces methanol from methane, but cannot be used for industrial-scale reactions. [12] Some homogeneously catalyzed systems and heterogeneous systems have been developed, but all have significant drawbacks. These generally operate by generating protected products which are shielded from overoxidation. Examples include the Catalytica system, copper zeolites, and iron zeolites stabilizing the alpha-oxygen active site. [13]

One group of bacteria drive methane oxidation with nitrite as the oxidant in the absence of oxygen, giving rise to the so-called anaerobic oxidation of methane. [14]

Acid-base reactions

Like other hydrocarbons, methane is a very weak acid. Its pKa in DMSO is estimated to be 56. [15] It cannot be deprotonated in solution, but the conjugate base is known in forms such as methyllithium.

A variety of positive ions derived from methane have been observed, mostly as unstable species in low-pressure gas mixtures. These include methenium or methyl cation CH+
, methane cation CH+
, and methanium or protonated methane CH+
. Some of these have been detected in outer space. Methanium can also be produced as diluted solutions from methane with superacids. Cations with higher charge, such as CH2+
and CH3+
, have been studied theoretically and conjectured to be stable. [16]

Despite the strength of its C–H bonds, there is intense interest in catalysts that facilitate C–H bond activation in methane (and other lower numbered alkanes). [17]


Methane bubbles can be burned on a wet hand without injury. The fire within her.jpg
Methane bubbles can be burned on a wet hand without injury.

Methane's heat of combustion is 55.5 MJ/kg. [18] Combustion of methane is a multiple step reaction summarized as follows:

CH4 + 2 O2 → CO2 + 2 H2O (ΔH = −891 k J/mol , at standard conditions)

Peters four-step chemistry is a systematically reduced four-step chemistry which explains the burning of methane.

Methane radical reactions

Given appropriate conditions, methane reacts with as follows:

X• + CH4 → HX + CH3
CH3• + X2 → CH3X + X•

where X is a halogen: fluorine (F), chlorine (Cl), bromine (Br), or iodine (I). This mechanism for this process is called free radical halogenation. It is initiated when UV light or some other radical initiator produces a halogen atom. A two-step chain reaction ensues in which the halogen atom abstracts a hydrogen atom from a methane molecule, resulting in the formation of a hydrogen halide molecule and a methyl radical (CH3•). The methyl radical then reacts with a molecule of the halogen to form a molecule of the halomethane, with a new halogen atom as byproduct. [19] Similar reactions can occur on the halogenated product, leading to replacement of additional hydrogen atoms by halogen atoms with dihalomethane, trihalomethane, and ultimately, tetrahalomethane structures, depending upon reaction conditions and the halogen-to-methane ratio.


Methane is used in industrial chemical processes and may be transported as a refrigerated liquid (liquefied natural gas, or LNG). While leaks from a refrigerated liquid container are initially heavier than air due to the increased density of the cold gas, the gas at ambient temperature is lighter than air. Gas pipelines distribute large amounts of natural gas, of which methane is the principal component.


Methane is used as a fuel for ovens, homes, water heaters, kilns, automobiles, [20] [21] turbines, and other things. Activated carbon is used to store methane. Gaseous [22] methane is also used as a rocket fuel when combined with liquid oxygen, as in the BE-4 and Raptor engines.

As the major constituent of natural gas, methane is important for electricity generation by burning it as a fuel in a gas turbine or steam generator. Compared to other hydrocarbon fuels, methane produces less carbon dioxide for each unit of heat released. At about 891 kJ/mol, methane's heat of combustion is lower than that of any other hydrocarbon. However, it produces more heat per mass (55.7 kJ/g) than any other organic molecule due to its relatively large content of hydrogen, which accounts for 55% of the heat of combustion [23] but contributes only 25% of the molecular mass of methane. In many cities, methane is piped into homes for domestic heating and cooking. In this context it is usually known as natural gas, which is considered to have an energy content of 39 megajoules per cubic meter, or 1,000 BTU per standard cubic foot. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is predominantly methane (CH4) converted into liquid form for ease of storage or transport.

Refined liquid methane is used as a rocket fuel. [24] Methane is reported to offer the advantage over kerosene of depositing less carbon on the internal parts of rocket motors, reducing the difficulty of re-use of boosters.

Chemical feedstock

Natural gas, which is mostly composed of methane, is used to produce hydrogen gas on an industrial scale. Steam Methane Reforming, or SMR, is the most common method of producing commercial bulk hydrogen gas. More than 50 million metric tons are produced annually worldwide (2013), principally from SMR of natural gas. [25] Much of this hydrogen is used in petroleum refineries, in the production of chemicals and in food processing. Very large quantities of hydrogen are used in the industrial synthesis of ammonia.

At high temperatures (700 1100 °C) and in the presence of a metal-based catalyst (nickel), steam reacts with methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen:

CH4 + H2OCO + 3 H2

This reaction is strongly endothermic (consumes heat, ΔHr= 206 kJ/mol). Additional hydrogen is obtained by the reaction of CO with water via the water-gas shift reaction.

CO + H2O ⇌ CO2 + H2

This reaction is mildly exothermic (produces heat, ΔHr= -41 kJ/mol).

Methane is also subjected to free-radical chlorination in the production of chloromethanes, although methanol is a more typical precursor. [26]


Diagram of sustainable methane fuel production.PNG

Geological routes

The two main routes for geological methane generation are (i) organic (thermally generated, or thermogenic) and (ii) inorganic (abiotic) [27] . Thermogenic methane occurs due to the breakup of organic matter at elevated temperatures and pressures in deep sedimentary strata. Most methane in sedimentary basins is thermogenic; therefore, thermogenic methane is the most important source of natural gas. Thermogenic methane components are typically considered to be relic (from an earlier time). Generally, formation of thermogenic methane (at depth) can occur through organic matter breakup, or organic synthesis. Both ways can involve microorganisms (methanogenesis), but may also occur inorganically. The processes involved can also consume methane, with and without microorganisms. The more important source of methane at depth (crystalline bedrock) is abiotic. Abiotic means that the methane formation took place involving inorganic compounds, without biological activity, either through magmatic processes or via water-rock reactions that occur at low temperatures and pressures, like serpentinization. [28] [29]

Biological routes

Most of Earth's methane is biogenic and is produced by methanogenesis [30] [31] , a form of anaerobic respiration only known to be conducted by some members of the domain, Archaea. Methanogens occupy landfill s and other soils [32] , ruminants (for example cows or cattle) [33] , the guts of termites, and the anoxic sediments below the seafloor and the bottom of lakes. Rice fields also generate large amounts of methane during plant growth. [34] This multistep process is used by these microorganisms for energy. The net reaction of methanogenesis is:

CO2 + 8 H2→ CH4 + 2 H2O

The final step in the process is catalyzed by the enzyme methyl coenzyme M reductase (MCR). [35]

Testing Australian sheep for exhaled methane production (2001), CSIRO CSIRO ScienceImage 1898 Testing Sheep for Methane Production.jpg
Testing Australian sheep for exhaled methane production (2001), CSIRO


Ruminants, such as cattle, belch methane, accounting for ~22% of the U.S. annual methane emissions to the atmosphere. [36] One study reported that the livestock sector in general (primarily cattle, chickens, and pigs) produces 37% of all human-induced methane. [37] A 2009 study found that at a conservative estimate, at least 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to the life cycle and supply chain of livestock products, meaning all meat, dairy, and by-products, and their transportation. [38] A 2013 study estimated that livestock accounted for 44% of human-induced methane and ~15% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. [39] Many efforts are underway to reduce livestock methane production, such as medical treatments and dietary adjustments, [40] [41] and to trap the gas to use as energy. [42] The state of California has been particularly active in this area. [43]

Seafloor Sediments

Most of the subseafloor is anoxic because oxygen is removed by aerobic microorganisms within the first few centimeters of the sediment. Below the oxygen replete seafloor, methanogens produce methane that is either used by other organisms or becomes trapped in gas hydrates. Other organisms utilize methane for energy and are known as methanotrophs (methane-eating). Consortia of Archaea and Bacteria have been found to oxidize methane via Anaerobic Oxidation of Methane (AOM); the organisms responsible for this are Anaerobic Methanotrophic Archaea (ANME) and Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria (SRB). [44]

Industrial routes

There is little incentive to produce methane industrially. Methane is produced by hydrogenating carbon dioxide through the Sabatier process. Methane is also a side product of the hydrogenation of carbon monoxide in the Fischer–Tropsch process, which is practiced on a large scale to produce longer-chain molecules than methane.

Example of large-scale coal-to-methane gasification is the Great Plains Synfuels plant, started in 1984 in Beulah, North Dakota as a way to develop abundant local resources of low-grade lignite, a resource that is otherwise difficult to transport for its weight, ash content, low calorific value and propensity to spontaneous combustion during storage and transport.

Power to methane is a technology that uses electrical power to produce hydrogen from water by electrolysis and uses the Sabatier reaction to combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane. As of 2016, this is mostly under development and not in large-scale use. Theoretically, the process could be used as a buffer for excess and off-peak power generated by highly fluctuating wind generators and solar arrays. However, as currently very large amounts of natural gas are used in power plants (e.g. CCGT) to produce electric energy, the losses in efficiency are not acceptable.

Laboratory synthesis

Methane can be produced by protonation of methyl lithium and methylmagnesium iodide. In practice, a requirement for pure methane will be filled with a steel gas bottle from standard suppliers.


Methane was discovered and isolated by Alessandro Volta between 1776 and 1778 when studying marsh gas from Lake Maggiore. It is the major component of natural gas, about 87% by volume. The major source of methane is extraction from geological deposits known as natural gas fields, with coal seam gas extraction becoming a major source (see Coal bed methane extraction, a method for extracting methane from a coal deposit, while enhanced coal bed methane recovery is a method of recovering methane from non-mineable coal seams). It is associated with other hydrocarbon fuels, and sometimes accompanied by helium and nitrogen. Methane is produced at shallow levels (low pressure) by anaerobic decay of organic matter and reworked methane from deep under the Earth's surface. In general, the sediments that generate natural gas are buried deeper and at higher temperatures than those that contain oil.

Methane is generally transported in bulk by pipeline in its natural gas form, or LNG carriers in its liquefied form; few countries transport it by truck.

Atmospheric methane

Methane concentration evolution from 1987 to December 2018 at Mauna Loa (Hawaii). Mlo ch4 ts obs 03437.png
Methane concentration evolution from 1987 to December 2018 at Mauna Loa (Hawaii).

In 2010, methane levels in the Arctic were measured at 1850 nmol/mol. This level is over twice as high as at any time in the last 400,000 years. Historic methane concentrations in the world's atmosphere have ranged between 300 and 400 nmol/mol during glacial periods commonly known as ice ages, and between 600 and 700 nmol/mol during the warm interglacial periods. The Earth's oceans are a potential important source of Arctic methane. [45]

Methane is an important greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of 34 compared to CO2 (potential of 1) over a 100-year period, and 72 over a 20-year period. [46] [47]

The Earth's atmospheric methane concentration has increased by about 150% since 1750, and it accounts for 20% of the total radiative forcing from all of the long-lived and globally mixed greenhouse gases (these gases don't include water vapor which is by far the largest component of the greenhouse effect). [48]


Methane clathrates (also known as methane hydrates) are solid cages of water molecules that trap single molecules of methane. Significant reservoirs of methane clathrates have been found in arctic permafrost and along continental margins beneath the ocean floor within the gas clathrate stability zone, located at high pressures (1 to 100 MPa; lower end requires lower temperature) and low temperatures (< 15 °C; upper end requires higher pressure). [49] Methane clathrates can form from biogenic methane, thermogenic methane, or a mix of the two. These deposits are both a potential source of methane fuel as well as a potential contributor to global warming. [50] [51] The global mass of carbon stored in gas clathrates is still uncertain and has been estimated as high as 12,500 Gt carbon and as low as 500 Gt carbon. [52] The estimate has declined over time with a most recent estimate of ~1800 Gt carbon. [53] A large part of this uncertainty is due to our knowledge gap in sources and sinks of methane and the distribution of methane clathrates at the global scale. For example, a relatively newly discovered source of methane was discovered in an ultraslow spreading ridge in the Arctic. [54] Some climate models suggest that today's methane emission regime from the ocean floor is potentially similar to that during the period of the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) around 55.5 million years ago, although there are no data indicating that methane from clathrate dissociation currently reaches the atmosphere. [53] Arctic methane release from permafrost and seafloor methane clathrates is a potential consequence and further cause of global warming; this is known as the clathrate gun hypothesis. [55] [56] [57] [58]

Extraterrestrial methane

Interstellar medium

Methane is abundant in many parts of the Solar system and potentially could be harvested on the surface of another solar-system body (in particular, using methane production from local materials found on Mars [59] or Titan), providing fuel for a return journey. [24] [60]


Methane has been detected on all planets of the solar system and most of the larger moons. With the possible exception of Mars, it is believed to have come from abiotic processes. [61] [62]

Methane (CH4) on Mars - potential sources and sinks. PIA19088-MarsCuriosityRover-MethaneSource-20141216.png
Methane (CH4) on Mars – potential sources and sinks.

The Curiosity rover has documented seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane levels on Mars. These fluctuations peaked at the end of the Martian summer at 0.6 parts per billion. [63] [64] [65] [66] [67] [68] [69] [70]

Methane has been proposed as a possible rocket propellant on future Mars missions due in part to the possibility of synthesizing it on the planet by in situ resource utilization. [71] An adaptation of the Sabatier methanation reaction may be used with a mixed catalyst bed and a reverse water-gas shift in a single reactor to produce methane from the raw materials available on Mars, utilizing water from the Martian subsoil and carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. [59]

Methane could be produced by a non-biological process called ’'serpentinization [lower-alpha 1] involving water, carbon dioxide, and the mineral olivine, which is known to be common on Mars. [72]


Alessandro Volta Alessandro Volta.jpg
Alessandro Volta

In November 1776, methane was first scientifically identified by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in the marshes of Lake Maggiore straddling Italy and Switzerland. Volta was inspired to search for the substance after reading a paper written by Benjamin Franklin about "flammable air". [73] Volta collected the gas rising from the marsh, and by 1778 had isolated the pure gas. [74] He also demonstrated that the gas could be ignited with an electric spark. [74]

The name "methane" was coined in 1866 by the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann. [75] The name was derived from methanol.


Etymologically, the word "methane" is coined from the chemical suffix "-ane", which denotes substances belonging to the alkane family; and the word "methyl", which is derived from the German "methyl" (A.D.1840) or directly from the French "méthyle" which is a back-formation from the French "méthylène" (corresponding to English "methylene"), the root of which is coined from the Greek "methy" (related to English "mead") and "hyle" (meaning "wood"). The radical is named after this because it was first detected in wood alcohol. The chemical suffix "-ane" is from the coordinating chemical suffix "-ine" which is from Latin feminine suffix "-ina" which is applied to represent abstracts. The coordination of "-ane", "-ene", "-one", etc. was proposed in 1866 by German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann (1818-1892).


Methane is nontoxic, yet it is extremely flammable and may form explosive mixtures with air. Methane is also an asphyxiant if the oxygen concentration is reduced to below about 16% by displacement, as most people can tolerate a reduction from 21% to 16% without ill effects. The concentration of methane at which asphyxiation risk becomes significant is much higher than the 5–15% concentration in a flammable or explosive mixture. Methane off-gas can penetrate the interiors of buildings near landfills and expose occupants to significant levels of methane. Some buildings have specially engineered recovery systems below their basements to actively capture this gas and vent it away from the building. Landfills are the single largest source of U.S. man-made methane emissions. [76]

Methane gas explosions are responsible for many deadly mining disasters. [77] A methane gas explosion was the cause of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, killing 29. [78]

Industrial processes which produce methane are often required to control or abate their methane emissions, along with other VOCs. A thermal oxidizer is the most common type of air pollution control equipment used to reduce methane emissions. [79]

See also


  1. There are many serpentinization reactions. Olivine is a solid solution between forsterite and fayalite whose general formula is (Fe,Mg)2SiO4. The reaction producing methane from olivine can be written as: Forsterite + Fayalite + Water + Carbonic acid → Serpentine + Magnetite + Methane , or (in balanced form): 18 Mg2SiO4 + 6 Fe2SiO4 + 26 H2O + CO2 → 12 Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 + 4 Fe3O4 + CH4

Related Research Articles

Alkane acyclic saturated hydrocarbon

In organic chemistry, an alkane, or paraffin (a historical name that also has other meanings), is an acyclic saturated hydrocarbon. In other words, an alkane consists of hydrogen and carbon atoms arranged in a tree structure in which all the carbon–carbon bonds are single. Alkanes have the general chemical formula CnH2n+2. The alkanes range in complexity from the simplest case of methane (CH4), where n = 1 (sometimes called the parent molecule), to arbitrarily large and complex molecules, like pentacontane (C50H102) or 6-ethyl-2-methyl-5-(1-methylethyl) octane, an isomer of tetradecane (C14H30).

Hydrocarbon organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon

In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons are examples of group 14 hydrides. Hydrocarbons from which one hydrogen atom has been removed are functional groups called hydrocarbyls. Because carbon has 4 electrons in its outermost shell carbon has exactly four bonds to make, and is only stable if all 4 of these bonds are used.

A methyl group is an alkyl derived from methane, containing one carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms — CH3. In formulas, the group is often abbreviated Me. Such hydrocarbon groups occur in many organic compounds. It is a very stable group in most molecules. While the methyl group is usually part of a larger molecule, it can be found on its own in any of three forms: anion, cation or radical. The anion has eight valence electrons, the radical seven and the cation six. All three forms are highly reactive and rarely observed.

Ethane is an organic chemical compound with chemical formula C
. At standard temperature and pressure, ethane is a colorless, odorless gas. Like many hydrocarbons, ethane is isolated on an industrial scale from natural gas and as a petrochemical by-product of petroleum refining. Its chief use is as feedstock for ethylene production.

Anaerobic respiration is respiration using electron acceptors other than molecular oxygen (O2). Although oxygen is not the final electron acceptor, the process still uses a respiratory electron transport chain.

Methanogens are microorganisms that produce methane as a metabolic byproduct in hypoxic conditions. They are prokaryotic and belong to the domain of archaea. They are common in wetlands, where they are responsible for marsh gas, and in the digestive tracts of animals such as ruminants and humans, where they are responsible for the methane content of belching in ruminants and flatulence in humans. In marine sediments the biological production of methane, also termed methanogenesis, is generally confined to where sulfates are depleted, below the top layers. Moreover, methanogenic archaea populations play an indispensable role in anaerobic wastewater treatments. Others are extremophiles, found in environments such as hot springs and submarine hydrothermal vents as well as in the "solid" rock of Earth's crust, kilometers below the surface.

Methanogenesis or biomethanation is the formation of methane by microbes known as methanogens. Organisms capable of producing methane have been identified only from the domain Archaea, a group phylogenetically distinct from both eukaryotes and bacteria, although many live in close association with anaerobic bacteria. The production of methane is an important and widespread form of microbial metabolism. In anoxic environments, it is the final step in the decomposition of biomass. Methanogenesis is responsible for significant amounts of natural gas accumulations, the remainder being thermogenic.

Hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel when burned with oxygen. It can be used in electrochemical cells or internal combustion engines to power vehicles or electric devices. It has begun to be used in commercial fuel cell vehicles such as passenger cars, and has been used in fuel cell buses for many years. It is also used as a fuel for the propulsion of spacecraft.

Anaerobic digestion Processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen

Anaerobic digestion is a collection of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste or to produce fuels. Much of the fermentation used industrially to produce food and drink products, as well as home fermentation, uses anaerobic digestion.

Landfill gas is a complex mix of different gases created by the action of microorganisms within a landfill. Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide. Trace amounts of other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) comprise the remainder (<1%). These trace gases include a large array of species, mainly simple hydrocarbons.

Microbial metabolism is the means by which a microbe obtains the energy and nutrients it needs to live and reproduce. Microbes use many different types of metabolic strategies and species can often be differentiated from each other based on metabolic characteristics. The specific metabolic properties of a microbe are the major factors in determining that microbe's ecological niche, and often allow for that microbe to be useful in industrial processes or responsible for biogeochemical cycles.

Greenhouse gas removal projects are a type of climate engineering that seek to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and thus they tackle the root cause of global warming. These techniques either directly remove greenhouse gases, or alternatively seek to influence natural processes to remove greenhouse gases indirectly. The discipline overlaps with carbon capture and storage and carbon sequestration, and some projects listed may not be considered to be climate engineering by all commentators, instead being described as mitigation.

The Jundiz recycling plant is located in the Basque Country, particularly in Vitoria-Gasteiz Jundiz Álava. This place is responsible for recycling the city garbage. The trash is converted by a physical-chemical or mechanical process to submit a substance or a product already used to a cycle of total or partial treatment for a commodity or a new product or raw materials from waste, introducing them back into life cycle. This occurs at the prospect of depletion of natural resources, macro economic and eliminate waste efficiently.

Carbon-neutral fuel

Carbon-neutral fuel is energy fuel or energy systems which have no net greenhouse gas emissions or carbon footprint. One class is synthetic fuel produced from renewable, sustainable or nuclear energy used to hydrogenate carbon dioxide directly captured from the air (DAC), recycled from power plant flue exhaust gas or derived from carbonic acid in seawater. Renewable energy sources include wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric power stations. Another type of renewable energy source is biofuel. Such fuels are potentially carbon-neutral because they do not result in a net increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Methane clumped isotopes are methane molecules that contain two or more rare isotopes. Methane (CH4) contains two elements, carbon and hydrogen, each of which has two stable isotopes. For carbon, 98.9% are in the form of carbon-12 (12C) and 1.1% are carbon-13 (13C); while for hydrogen, 99.99% are in the form of protium (1H) and 0.01% are deuterium (2H or D). Carbon-13 (13C) and deuterium (2H or D) are rare isotopes in methane molecules. The abundance of the clumped isotopes provides information independent from the traditional carbon or hydrogen isotope composition of methane molecules.

The sulfate-methane transition zone (SMTZ) is a zone in oceans, lakes, and rivers found below the sediment surface in which sulfate and methane coexist. The formation of a SMTZ is driven by the diffusion of sulfate down the sediment column and the diffusion of methane up the sediments. At the SMTZ, their diffusion profiles meet and sulfate and methane react with one another, which allows the SMTZ to harbor a unique microbial community whose main form of metabolism is anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM). The presence of AOM marks the transition from dissimilatory sulfate reduction to methanogenesis as the main metabolism utilized by organisms.

C1 chemistry

C1 chemistry is the chemistry of one-carbon molecules. Although many compounds and ions contain only one carbon, stable and abundant C-1 feedstocks are the focus of research. Four compounds are of major industrial importance: methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methanol. Technologies that interconvert these species are often consequential.


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